Bob Huggins wore a flower in his lapel for his first home game against Pitt as WVU's coach in 2008. He'd be surprised if the rivalry is discontinued as the schools head to different leagues.
MORGANTOWN - With West Virginia's official exit from the Big East now plainly in sight, perhaps the most intriguing question that does not concern the Mountaineers' new home in the Big 12 is this:What happens to the Backyard Brawl?West Virginia and Pitt have played 104 times in football, including every season since 1943. The only time the teams took a break after 1919, in fact, was three years between 1940 and 1942.In basketball, the rivalry has been non-stop since the 1917-18 season. It began in 1904, and when the teams meet in Pittsburgh Thursday night it will be the 184th meeting.
In football, the series will certainly die, at least for a while. In basketball, though, don't count on it ending."You would think so,'' WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins said Tuesday when asked if his team would face Pitt in future seasons. "But honestly I don't know.''He has a feeling, though."Honestly, I'd be kind of shocked [if it ended],'' Huggins said. "I mean, we've been playing since 1904. We're all looking for good non-conference games.''Indeed, the WVU-Pitt basketball series has survived changing conferences before. Most recently, Pitt left the Eastern 8 in 1982 for the Big East, while WVU stayed with the same core teams to form the Atlantic 10. Despite the shift, West Virginia and Pitt alternated home games each year until the Mountaineers joined Pitt in the Big East in 1995.
So there will be talks."I want to talk to Jamie [Dixon, Pitt's coach] about it when the season is over,'' Huggins said. "Obviously now isn't the time.''As for the football rivalry, that's a bit more difficult to schedule. The game will certainly not be played in 2012 because while Pitt is still searching for two more games, WVU's schedule is full. In fact, West Virginia's schedule is overloaded by one game for at least the next several years because of the move from the Big East to the Big 12 and a change from a seven-game league schedule to a nine-game conference slate.West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck didn't discount the possibility of games sometime in the future, though.
"We've had a tremendous rivalry with Pittsburgh in all of our sports,'' Luck said Tuesday. "Pitt's going through a lot of change with its imminent joining of the Atlantic Coast Conference and they're going to nine conference games. It'll be difficult to schedule, but I would certainly welcome a conversation with Steve Pederson [Pitt's athletic director] once Steve has a handle on what they want to do with their non-conference schedule."Certainly this upcoming season it's pretty obvious there will be no Backyard Brawl. Going forward, we'll just have to keep a line of communication open. ... Whether we can get each other on our schedules remains to be seen.''
Huggins, meanwhile, has another issue to deal with in the change of conferences. One of his favorite recruiting spots over the years has always been the metropolitan New York area, and since arriving at West Virginia five years ago he has had a presence there with games at schools like St. John's, Rutgers and Seton Hall, as well as yearly trips to the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.Now those trips will dry up unless he can schedule a non-conference trip there."Yeah, we're going to try,'' Huggins said. "We'd like to do that.''BrieflyBeer sales at Mountaineer Field won't end with West Virginia's move to the Big 12. Luck said his school's new conference has no rules regarding the sale of beer at its venues, so WVU will continue to do so provided the school's Board of Governors continues to approve it.West Virginia is at least one sport short of meeting the Big 12 minimum for its members and Luck has indicated that men's golf would be a likely addition to the school's roster of sports. But it won't happen right away.
"We're under no obligation to add a sport'' for the 2012-13 school year, he said. But it will have to be done eventually.Huggins coached in the Big 12 for one year at Kansas State, back when the Big 12 really had 12 teams. It now has 10, and in basketball each school will play every other school home and away.
"I think we're leaving one great league and going to another one,'' Huggins said. "I was in that league for a year. It was a little different format then because you played everyone in the North [division] twice and everybody in the South once.
"I'm kind of old-school and I think it's kind of neat that you play everybody on a home-and-home basis. You actually get a true champion.''While WVU must add a sport to comply with Big 12 minimums, two of the sports the school offers are not contested in the Big 12 - rifle and men's soccer. Rifle will continue to compete in the Great American Rifle League.
Men's soccer, for now, is homeless. Luck said the school is looking at several possibilities, beginning with Conference USA, which already has Kentucky and South Carolina because the SEC does not offer that."Of course, Conference USA is undergoing its own changes with its recently announced merger with the Mountain West, so we're monitoring that,'' Luck said. "We're also having some discussions with the Mid-American Conference.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.